Bid Lifecycle

Guidance notes to support your bid writing training for the module on the Bid Lifecycle.

This module is designed to improve bid team cohesion, through:
– Achieving a common understanding about writing proposals
– Demonstrating that proposals are a key part of the sales process

The sections covered below are:

1. Proposals vs Technical Reports – there are crucial differences between them
2. Proposals Are Part of the Sales Process – an overview of the entire bid lifecycle
3. Bid – No-Bid Decision – assessing your chances of success
4. Competitive Tendering: PQQs, ITTs etc. – overview on the different types of tenders
5. How Public Sector Bids Are Evaluated – points are the battleground
6. Evolution of Proposal Best Practice – the innovative ideas from the 60’s that are still relevant today
7. ITT Competitive Analysis – assessing how you stack up against the competition for your next tender
8. An Effective Proposal Development Process – overview of the proven, repeatable, process steps
9. Why Do Proposals Fail? – what you need to do to succeed

1. Proposals vs. Technical Reports

How is a proposal different from a technical report?

Technical reports do not make “easy reading” for an evaluator because they tend to lack structure, can be excessively wordy, and lack effective use of graphics.

Faced with reading this sort of material, evaluators struggle their way through it, and reward your team’s efforts with average marks. Not enough to win the bid.

1.1 Proposal vs. Technical Report – Highlighting the importance of understanding how a proposal is actually part of the sales process, and is not a technical document
Answer: A proposal is a sales document.

Why does it matter?

As a proposal is a sales document, it part of a competitive sales process. Accordingly, it requires a different approach, than for writing technical reports, to achieve success.

Let’s take a look at where it fits in the sales process.

1.2 A proposal is a sales document –  As part of a competitive sales process it requires a different approach to achieve success, than for writing technical reports

2. Proposals are Part of the Sales Process

A bid or proposal needs to be easy-to-read and easy-to-evaluate. It requires a completely different writing style than that of a technical report.

There are three distinct phases, in the sales process:

  • Sales capture (see the green boxes below)
  • Proposal development and production (blue boxes)
  • Contracting and delivery (yellow and red boxes)

And five key milestones.

2.1 Proposals are Part of the Sales Process – Highlighting the importance of understanding how a proposal is actually part of the sales process, and is not a technical document

3. Bid – No-Bid Decision

Ideally, at the start of the proposal planning phase, you will have taken the opportunity to conduct a bid no-bid analysis.
3.1 Proposals Are Part of the Sales Process – Assessing how well positioned you are to win 
The purpose of the bid no-bid process is to ensure that you are assessing the competitive environment for the proposal, and how well-positioned you are to win it.

The process shown below is simple and quick to do. Reading from left to right, in the top row of green diamond- shaped boxes, an answer of “yes” to all the questions provides a clear indication to bid.

Wherever there is “no, then there is a suggested way, in the grey and red diamond shaped boxes, to mitigate that weakness.

If the weakness can’t be mitigated, then you should consider no-bidding that opportunity. Or at the very least be fully prepared to bid and lose it.

3.2 Bid – No-Bid Decision – the process when choosing to bid or no-bid a tender
3.3 Qualification is Necessary – To maximise your chance of winning

4. Competitive Tendering PQQs and ITTs

The proposal development process works for all types of competitive tenders, whether it is a PQQ, CCS, SQ, RFI, RFQ, RFP or ITT.
4.1 Competitive Tendering: PQQs and ITTs – Depending on where you are and the government’s buying cycle, you can expect to get one of the following: PQQ, RFI, ITT
Below are the definitions for the different types of competitive tender acronyms.

PQQ – Pre-Qualification Questionnaire
Used to collect qualification and technical information from suppliers in order to:

  • Evaluate the supplier base
  • Narrow the field of competition to qualified suppliers

CCS – The Crown Commercial Service

SQ – Selection Questionnaire

RFI – Request for information, used when you think you know what you want but need more information from the vendors.
It will typically be followed by an RFQ or RFP. If they proceed to Invitation to Tender as a result of this RFI.

RFQ – Request for Quote is commonly used when you know what you want but need information on how vendors would meet your requirements and/or how much it will cost.

RFP – Request for Proposal is used when you know you have a problem but don’t know how you want to solve it.

ITT – Invitation to Tender

This is the most formal of the “Request for” processes and has strict procurement rules for content, timeline and vendor responses.

  • Is used to collect detailed technical and commercial information from pre-qualified suppliers
  • In the form of a private offer
4.2 Competitive Tendering: – Acronyms and their definition
A critical component of your approach must be to fully comply with any tender instructions. Sometimes they are very detailed, sometimes they’re quite succinct.

In the example below, for this particular ITT, they have provided additional instructions that focus on ensuring a high quality response.

Most notable is the instruction to “answer the question”, clearly indicating that, in their experience, often people don’t.

The other notable instruction is to “pay attention to the evaluation criteria”. Sometimes the criteria will be quite explicit where the marks are going to be awarded.

Other times it will say a high score will be given for an answer that give a “high confidence of successfully delivering requirements”.

That leaves it up to you to demonstrate that you know what that means, and that you can prove you can successfully deliver it.

4.3 ITT Instructions – The do’s and don’ts which are key to winning a bid

5. How Public Sector Bids Are Evaluated

Tender Scoring Process
Stage 1: Arrival of ITT responses:
• Each question taken in turn
• Discuss what they are looking for in the answer
• Answer from all suppliers are read and discussed

Stage 2: Scoring Process – Questions they ask:
• Does it fully answer the question?
• Is there evidence to back up the answer?
• Does it provide assurance on all aspects?
• Scoring is done solely on what is on the page – not on prior knowledge

Stage 3: Moderate the score
• The score is then agreed collectively
• Evaluation panel agrees and moderate scores

Notes about the ITT scoring process for public sector bids:
  • Done by civil servants
  • Must be seen to be unbiased towards any bidders
  • Must follow evaluation rules/process to the letter
  • (Supposedly) Leading to an objective scoring process
  • Need outcomes to be justifiable and evidenced
  • (Supposedly) Mechanical process to limit scope for subjective assessment
  • Want to minimise scope for challenge
Notes from government procurement sites:
  • Done by Crown Commercial Services (CCS)
  • Each PQQ/ITT on the platform is managed by a buyer within the buyer organisation
  • After the closing date & time, the PQQ/ITT will be formally opened and evaluated
  • Tender responses will be scored by an evaluation panel appointed by the Authority,
    for all criteria other than commercial, using the provided scoring model/s
  • Terms of reference meeting: panel meets beforehand. Are provided with an overview of what the ITT is about.
The scoring can be simple, or highly detailed and complex, as shown in the example below.

As you can see in the blue shaded box on the left, 50% of the score is for commercial. That is then further broken down into two subsections, and seven sub-subsections.

5.1 How Public Sector Bids are Evaluated
The scoring can be simple, or, as shown in the example below, highly detailed and complex.

As you can in the blue shaded box on the left, 50% of the score is for commercial. That is then further broken down into two subsections, and seven sub-subsections.

5.2 Evaluation Criteria – Important to note it is not just the % mark, you also have to comply
In the example below, in the technical section, the solution subsection on the left has five sub-subsections. Each sub subsection is in then broken down into the score for each individual question.

For a proposal as complex as this, it is essential to analyse the scores in detail, and create a descending list, from the highest to lowest scoring answer.

This will give you an order of priority for which questions you need to focus your bid writing efforts to gain the highest possible score, and those that are pass/fail.

In addition, you will notice that a number of the questions are not scored, simply requiring information. The question types are identified in the “category” column, second from the left.

5.3 Evaluation Criteria – In complex proposals, it is essential to analyse the scores in detail, and create a descending list from the highest to lowest scoring answer.
In this particular ITT, the scoring criteria is vague: you get a 4, equating to 100%, for a “very high confidence” response.

How that is applied is as a multiplier against the possible highest score for each answer, as shown below.

5.4. Scoring Models – Points are the battleground
Below are some suggestions of the types of evidence you could provide, and the level of confidence they would be scored at.
5.5. Evidence – Providing substantial evidence will build confidence in the evaluators mind
It is critical to understand the value in £ of every point gained in the technical section of an ITT, above the lowest price winner’s score for the technical section. This can be calculated by dividing your total price by financial score %.

In the example below, every point you gain is worth £125,000, and you need to make up that 4% difference in the technical section.

Obviously, every point gained above their score in the technical section, will compensate for your higher price. But the value, to you, of knowing how to produce high scoring answers is worth at least £500,000 in this case.

It is worth even more if you gain a technical score that is more than 4% higher than the lowest price winner, and you win the bid.

5.6. Value of Your Answer – Sample calculation
Also, from the feedback post-contract award, you can work out the winning price using the formula shown below.
5.7. Calculating the Winning Price – Formula

6. Evolution of Proposal Best Practice

Proposal best practice is nothing new. It all began with this pioneering STOP document, published in January 1965.

Hughes Aircraft involved in producing massive bids for the US government, costing many millions o fo dollars. They conducted research into how to consistently achieve high evaluation marks.

From that work came key best practice concepts such as storyboarding (answer outlines) , the importance of using graphics, and customer-focused writing. These concepts have proven themselves over time.

6.1 Proposal Best Practice – Began in 1965 with a massive bid to the US government from Hughes Aircraft
They evolved the production of a proposal from a long technical discourse, known as the river-raft concept, into a collection of topics and themes, known as the STOP concept.
6.2 A New Paradigm – A revolutionary process for producing bids
The whole approach was based on making answers easy to evaluate, based on:

  • Topics or themes
  • Succinct text
  • Extensive use of graphics: diagrams, charts, tables
  • Informative captions
6.3 Making answers easy to evaluate – Using themes, diagrams and captions
These topics were then arranged into a story – hence the name storyboarding similar to visualising a movie script.

Once the STOP storyboarding technique was adopted, it didn’t take long for Hughes-Fullerton’s win-percentage to mushroom.

Soon these techniques became widely adopted, spread at first by Hughes’ proposal-teaming efforts with other companies, and then by its own momentum as word got around.

6.4. Storyboarding – Answer Outlines
As you can see in the answer outline below, the yellow tinted area is the solution summary; the blue tinted area is the bulleted list, all supported by the graphic with a caption.
6.5 Solution Summary – From the early days when it was all handwritten
Here we can see an actual early -days storyboard session in progress

Acknowledgement: the STOP report excerpts belong to the copyright owner,
Raytheon Company, dba Raytheon Systems Company, formerly Hughes Aircraft Company.

6.6. Hughes-Fullerton – Storyboarding in the early days
The key benefits of adopting proposal best practice are:

  • Proposal manager can guard against unpleasant surprises when the authors’ inputs finally reaches his desk
  • Removing the surprises that could activate management’s panic button, exposing the need for agonising, eleventh-hour revisions
  • Ensuring each author knows exactly the required answer structure and content before getting down to generating the written answers
  • Ensuring the strong points of your approach are made crystal clear to the proposal evaluator
6.7. Proposal Best Practice – Key benefits

7. ITT Competitive Analysis

Writing a proposal without a proposal strategy is like a football team trying to win without a game plan that draws on its strengths, and no clear idea how to neutralise the strength of the opposition.

Accordingly, when an ITT comes out, it is highly recommended to take a couple of hours and analyse how your response might be viewed by the customer, and also those of the competing companies.

That is what an ITT swot is all about. It may be a subjective process, but time and again it is proven to be surprisingly accurate.

At the very least, it will give you a clear idea where to focus your team’s bid writing efforts.

We start by breaking down the ITT and entering the scores for the major sections and subsections. Quickly, without too much thinking about it, assign a score for your competitors, based on how you think they will be performing. If you’re not sure score them high.

Colour-code the scores:

  • Green – for where you score the highest
  • Red – for where you score the lowest
  • Purple – when one of your competitors also scores the highest
    (also can be where you too score the highest)
  • Orange – for where your competitors score the lowest
    (also can be where you too score the lowest)
  • If you all score the same – no colour
7.1 ITT Competitive Analysis  – How the points add up
Delete the rows where all companies, including you, score the same.
7.2 ITT SWOT – Technical 50%
Next, reorder the rows into groups of green, red, purple and orange.

Now you can see where to focus your efforts on answers where you will be weak, and the answers where the competitors are likely to be weak.

You’re looking for any answers where you can easily gain points against the competition.

Of course, you want to focus on the questions for the competitors are stronger. This approach makes it much easier to identify those questions as well.

7.3 ITT SWOT Technical 50% – Focusing on your weak answers to find extra points

8. An Effective Proposal Development Process

As we discussed earlier, proposals are part of the sales process. There are two elements of proposal development process:

  • Proposal planning
  • Proposal writing
8.1 Proposals are Part of the Sales Process  – When an ITT comes in, it is essential to have a proven, repeatable process for producing a winning proposal
Let’s take a look at what constitutes an effective proposal development process.
8.2 Proposal Writing – Step-by-step process to ensure best practice bid response 
Once the ITT is published, the first step is to do a detailed analysis of the entire ITT documentation.

In my experience I have often found the most effective process is to print out the entire ITT, and sit down and read it end to end, underlining all the key points and instructions.

As part of that process, is essential to produce an ITT checklist. This can be a spreadsheet that contains all the questions, instructions, and columns for the processes that you will be using to produce the ITT and including the reviews processes.

8.3 Proposal Writing – ITT Analysis
As we discussed in 7.ITT competitive analysis above, I highly recommend that you conduct a competitive analysis to produce your proposal strategy.
8.4 Proposal Writing – Competitive Analysis
The next step is to produce answer outlines for all the questions if possible. If not, then for as many of the questions as you can, starting with the highest scoring questions.

Depending on the number of questions, this can take a few days to complete.

8.5 Proposal Writing – Answer Outline
When you are ready, a kickoff meeting all the technical team is essential to layout the strategy for the proposal, agree the writing assignments, and the timings.

At this stage, the answer outlines can be sent to the designated authors for them to commence work, with an agreed deadline for their production.

8.6 Proposal Writing – Kick off
The technical writing team now focus on producing the answer outlines, which is a critical first step to ensuring a 100% compliant answer, and answer structure.
8.7 Proposal Writing – Writing outlines
At the agreed deadline date, the answer outlines are collected and made ready for review.

The answer outline review is known as a Pink Team, and it is one of the key first steps to raising your game in producing a high-scoring, winning proposal.

8.8 Proposal Writing – Pink team
Following the Pink Team review, the writers will have an agreed structure with comments on the content. They can now focus on writing the first draft confident that they are on their way to producing high scoring answers. They also will have a date by which they need to produce their first draft.
8.9 Proposal Writing – Writing drafts
At the agreed deadline date, the first drafts are collected and made ready for review.

The first draft review is known as a Red Team, and it is the key second step in raising your game to produce a high-scoring, winning proposal.

If there is time, is often very useful to have a second Red Team review of the final drafts.

8.10 Proposal Writing – Red team
In the final draft phase, it is very important to ensure there is time for proofreading of the final drafts.

There’s nothing more unprofessional than submitting a proposal full of errors, be they typos or the incorrect heading numbers or caption title numbers.

Errors in a proposal send a strong message to the evaluators about the quality of the work they can expect from you.

8.11 Proposal Writing – Writing final draft and proof reading
Depending on the internal processes inside your company, it’s important to factor in enough time for in final approvals from senior management, and, if required, print production
8.12 Proposal Writing – Final approvals and production
If you have never implemented this kind of process before, you may well be skeptical that there is enough time to get all this process done.

Below is an actual timing for a significant bid, of 200 questions, that was executed using this process.

There is no doubt there’s enough time to do it, and really you have to ask yourself: can you really afford not to do it?

8.13 Proposal Writing – Timing for a bid of 200 questions, executed using this process

9. Why Do Proposals Fail?

It’s always useful to think about why a proposal fails to win. The reasons are pretty obvious.
9.1 Why Do Proposals Fail? – The reasons are numerous
Having a relationship with the client can be very important in winning an ITT.

For many companies there’s no real chance that one can be developed, and the results of that are seen in the low proposal win rates. 

It’s a company decision whether the bid no-bid decision process is something they want to use.

9.2 Why Do Proposals Fail? – Assessing whether you have: strong client relationships, competitive advantage, room for improvement, and whether the client favours a competitor
To understand what it takes to win a proposal is also pretty obvious. All you need to do is do the exact opposite of why a proposal fails.

Having said that, there is no one can that can guarantee, no matter what they say, that you will win a proposal. You have just got to do the best that you can.

9.2 Why Do Proposals Succeed? – Numerous areas to “get it right” for a successful bid
By operating a proven proposal development process, you can increase the odds that you will have a winning proposal.

Below we can see how the Lahara bid writing training processes will address the key issues of why a proposal fails.

9.4 The Value of Lahara’s Bid Training – Covering all the essential steps needed to win a bid